There are over 700 shows at this year’s National Arts Festival, but they’re not the only attractions on display. Walking down Drostdy Road, a festival-goer can see pop-up stalls lining the length of the street, as well as colourful sunflower ornaments peaking out from the tents and covers. There’s everything here: household trinkets, trench coats, jewellery and carvings among other goods. With one more weekend of the annual event left, there’s plenty of time to explore and shop your way through Fest.
Walking by the different stalls, you may strike up a conversation with some of the people who’ve come down to Grahamstown to sell their wares. Take one stall owner from Cape Town, for example: every year for the past four years, he’s come to sell his handmade accessories on Drostdy Road. Originally from Ghana, he incorporates kente fabric into his clutches and handbags.
“Each bag is unique,” he assures me, holding up each bag. And they’re certainly stunning, slap bang on the recent African print trend. Even the insides are customised, with each bag having different coloured lining.
Another merchant is selling custom-made clothes from her brand Rea’Nubia: warm snoods, dramatic capes and jackets. They’re beautiful clothes, albeit not beautifully priced where student budgets are concerned.
I head over to the jewellery section. There are many little stalls clustered together, and it’s a little difficult to manoeuvre through them without bumping into their merchandise. There’s a Rastafarian-themed stall in the corner blasting some Reggae tunes, and my inner Bob Marley fan pulls me toward the sound. It’s a wise choice, as I finally find the perfect pair of earrings.
As we finalise the transaction, I strike up a conversation with the stall owner – a tall, dreadlocked man wearing a colourful, flowery shirt. This is his third Festival, and he keeps coming back because, in his words, “this is a great place to sell homemade jewellery and meet new people.”
All his jewellery is handmade, from the bracelets and intricate earrings to the large necklaces hanging above my head. I pack away my earrings – shaped like the African continent – and head home.
National Arts Festival is an important space for artists and performances to showcase their work, but it’s equally important for the many merchants who travel to Grahamstown to sell their products. Without the stalls by Drostdy Lawns and the Village Green, the Festival would look very different. Now, thanks to my most recent purchase, I have something with which to remember the 2017 National Arts Festival.
By Mako Muzenda